NEW DELHI: Union health ministry has decided to address the contentious issue of sexual health of adolescents head on.
With one in every five Indians is in the age bracket of 10-19 years, the Union health ministry has conceived an "Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health (ARSH)" programme, where unique "health clinics" will dish out "adolescent-friendly services."
States have started training doctors and nurses who will man these adolescent clinics to deal with uncomfortable problems or questions on menstrual health, contraceptive use, sexual behaviour of married couple and their nutritional needs.
India plans to greatly reduce its total fertility, maternal mortality, infant mortality and anaemia rates along with HIV prevalence and population. It also aims to reduce social ills like child marriage, unwanted pregnancies and teenage abortions.
"We are reorganizing the existing health system to make services more adolescent-friendly. Investments in adolescent reproductive and sexual health will yield dividends in terms of delaying age at marriage, meeting unmet contraception need, besides helping India realize its demographic bonus as healthy adolescents are an important resource for the economy. Adolescent clinics will provide preventive, curative, counselling and referral services to those in school and out of it," ministry officials said.
Experts say over 10 states have already started making these clinics functional. By the end of 2011, they will become largely operational across the country.
India is home to 225 million adolescents, consisting nearly one-fifth of the nation's total population. Of the total adolescent population, 12% belong to the 10-14 age group, and nearly 10% are in the 15-19 age bracket.
Data on adolescents from national surveys, including NFHS III, DLHS III and SRS, had thrown up some concerning results. For example, more than half of the girls in the 15-19 age group, or 56% are anaemic. Over half (58%) of Indian women are married off before they turn 18 years.
Around 16% of girls — aged 15-19 — have already begun child bearing, and 12% have had a live birth. Only 14% of women in the 15-19 age bracket have received complete anti-natal care. Around 62% of married adolescents have had complications during pregnancy. More than half of the women in the 15-19 age group have delivered at home.
Around one in every 10 pregnancies in this age group results in spontaneous abortions. Around 41% of all maternal deaths take place among the 15-24 age group. There is a 50% higher risk of infant deaths among mothers aged below 20 years, while 6,000 adolescent mothers die every year due to anaemia.
In a complete reversal of a 50-year trend, a recent British study published in the medical journal the Lancet said more youngsters are now dying globally than toddlers. In a first-of-its-kind study, it was found that death rates in young people (15-24 years) are now higher than children (1-4 years) across most high and low-income countries. Death rates in young men (15-24 years) are two to three times higher than boys (1-4 years).
Anthony Lake, UNICEF's executive director, recently said, "We need to focus more attention now on reaching adolescents, especially adolescent girls. Adolescence is a critically important age."
The recent "State of the World's Children report 2011" also stressed on investing in the world's 1.2 billion adolescents — aged 10-19. It said the 33%-drop in the global under-five mortality rate shows that many more young lives have been saved.